At least 100,000 people have now fled the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karbakh – more than four-fifths of the population – since Azerbaijan reclaimed the territory in a lightening offensive, authorities in neighboring Armenia said.
The rapid exodus has prompted the United Nations to send its first mission to the territory in about 30 years.
Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, said the UN team on the ground would “identify the humanitarian needs for both people remaining and the people that are on the move.”
Though internationally seen as part of Azerbaijan, the Armenian-majority Nagorno-Karbakh had spent decades under the control of a separatist, de facto government until Azerbaijan’s victory last week. The former breakaway republic will cease to exist as of next year.
Azerbaijan has long been clear about the choice confronting Karabakh Armenians: Stay and accept Azerbaijani citizenship, or leave.
As of Saturday morning, 100,417 people had been “forcibly displaced,” the Armenian prime minister’s spokeswoman, Nazeli Baghdasaryan, told reporters.
Fears of ‘punitive actions’
Armenian authorities have responded to the outflux of people by asking the International Court of Justice, a judicial arm of the UN, to tell Azerbaijan to withdraw its troops – citing fears of “punitive actions.”
They requested the court order Azerbaijan to “withdraw all military and law-enforcement personnel from all civilian establishments in Nagorno-Karabakh,” while refraining from “taking any actions directly or indirectly” that would have the effect of displacing the remaining ethnic Armenians or preventing those who fled from returning.
Azerbaijan should also allow people to leave the region “without any hindrance” if they wanted to, the Armenian authorities demanded.
Armenia also asked the court to direct Azerbaijan to grant the UN and the Red Cross access to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijan should “refrain from taking punitive actions against the current or former political representatives or military personnel of Nagorno-Karabakh,” the Armenian authorities said.
The appeal comes as Azerbaijani state media reported Friday that the security services in the country had detained two former commanders of the self-proclaimed “Republic of Artsakh’s” military.
Loven Mnatsakanyan and Davit Manukyan were intercepted while attempting to cross from Nagorno-Karabakh into Armenia via the Lachin Corridor, the one road connecting the landlocked enclave to Armenia.
Mnatsakanyan, who reportedly served as defense minister from 2015 to 2018, was arrested Friday and taken to the Azebaijani capital of Baku, according to state media. He was accused of illegally entering its territory.
Manukyan, who reportedly served as the former deputy commander of Nagorno-Karbakh’s armed forces, was detained Wednesday, Azerbaijani state media reported.
He was accused of engaging in terrorism, setting up illegal armed groups, illegal possession of a firearm, and illegally entering Azerbaijan, though no evidence was presented to support the claims.
The announcement of the arrests came after the indictment of prominent Nagorno-Karabakh politician and businessman Ruben Vardanyan on multiple charges in Azerbaijan Thursday after being detained while trying to cross into Armenia the day before, according to state media citing the Azerbaijani State Security Service.
A former Minister of State of the self-proclaimed republic, Vardanyan is accused of financing terrorism, participating in the creation and activities of illegal armed groups, and illegally crossing Azerbaijani borders, according to state media. Azerbaijan has not presented evidence to support its claims.
On Thursday, local politician David Babayan, an adviser to Samvel Shahramanyan, the president of the self-styled “Republic of Artsakh,” wrote on Telegram that he would hand himself over to Azerbaijan.
“My failure to appear, or worse, my escape, will cause serious harm to our long-suffering nation, to many people, and I, as an honest person, hard worker, patriot and Christian, cannot allow this,” Babayan wrote.